I asked for help when I was 12.
I looked, alone, in my middle school library
at a teenage health book. It told me that
depression is an illness. It is real. You can be helped.
It took me days to summon up the courage
find the words to say, “I think that I’m depressed.”
“Everyone’s depressed!” was the response.
I left it there.
I asked for help when I was 13, 15,
already suicidal, finding school a torment.
“All teenagers have mood swings.”
“It may be PMS, so track your periods.”
I asked for help when I was 17.
I got propranolol. Whatever that meant.
I didn’t feel it did much, but someone cared.
I asked for help when I was 20.
The psychiatrist, the first I’d met,
portrayed me as a liar and implied that I might drink.
He sneered at my choices
and gave me fluoxetine, which sent me high.
He didn’t care.
I saw another guy who thought I had bipolar.
Lithium, he said, was the drug of choice but
it can cause thyroid problems
You need blood tests
and you must not get pregnant, no matter what.
No one talked it through with me.
No one helped me understand what it might mean to have bipolar.
No one gave me options.
It was lithium, or nothing.
I chose nothing.
I asked for help when I was 25.
I filled in a depression scale.
No, I cannot cope
and yes I cry a lot
and yes I think about death.
My toddler’s behaviour is out of control
my newborn’s crying is out of control
my depression is out of control.
The Health Visitor frowned.
“You’re score is very high.
I think it’s just because you’re self aware.”
And I had thought it was because
I was so depressed.
My GP tried to help.
with no onward referral
and I remained in a kind of hell
an empty of husk of a mother
an empty husk of a person.
I asked for help when I was 27
if by asking for help you mean
spewing the contents of my medicine cabinet
from my stomach to the floor
of a curtained A&E cubicle.
When my vital organs were deemed well
I went home
five pills of chlorpromazine
in a brown childproof bottle.
They sent a CPN.
“What do you want from me?” she sighed.
“This service is for people
with serious mental health problems.”
And she left.
They sent me for assessment with a clinical psychologist.
At last my problems, the overdose, seemed taken seriously
and my name went on the waiting list.
We didn’t hear and didn’t hear
and so we phoned.
“Oh, you’ve been taken of the list.
We had a case conference and
you were not in sufficient need.”
I asked for help when I was 28.
The psychiatrist looked into my file
but did not look at me.
Every session was the same:
your GP seems right
your current medication seems right
so see you in a month, then.
Repeat in August, in September, repeat repeat repeat.
I asked for help when I was 30.
and received a new and inaccurate diagnosis
something that I only knew when a letter came my way.
I did not recognise this version of the assessment
this description of my “psychopathology”
I did not recognise myself.
The unexpected upside of being told
that my personality was partially disordered
was I got the therapy I had needed 18 months ago.
I was profoundly grateful. I was profoundly angry.
I asked for help when I was 37.
I received it.